Art review, Book review, Concert, Movie review, Theatre review

2017 Round-Up

Books (me)

  • The Woman in the Fifth, Douglas Kennedy
  • Get in Trouble, Kelly Link
  • The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  • The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
  • The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, Mary S. Lovell
  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson
  • TransAtlantic, Colum McCann
  • Brothers, William Goldman
  • The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel J. Levitin
  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin
  • Classics of the Macabre, Daphne du Maurier
  • Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, Mark Frost

A depressingly short list, again, but a couple or three that exceeded 500 pages, so maybe not too depressing. The standout in terms of influence was The Organized Mind, which provides clear explanations of how the mind works—and how to work better within these confines. The big takeaway is that no one, no way, no how, can multitask. Another revelation: the importance and joy of being “in the zone”—engaged in a task that perfectly suits your level of competence. The two biographies are exceedingly well written, well researched, and exhaustive; respectful and knowledgeable of their subjects (the Mitford sisters and Shirley Jackson). Of the fiction, the best and most lingering was TransAtlantic. The most annoying, to me, was Erik Larson’s book: this was history written as fiction, and it grated on me. Just not to my taste. And one quick shout-out re. the du Maurier: this was a hardback book, and just the perfect size and weight for holding and reading in bed, making it a joy to engage with.

Books (Steve)

  • Mash, Richard Hooker
  • My Sunshine Away, M.O.Walsh
  • Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
  • The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
  • I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, Miriam Linna and Randell Fuller
  • Boardwalk Empire, Nelson Johnson
  • The Double, George Pelecanos
  • Loss of Innocence, Richard North Patterson
  • Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz
  • The Mayor of MacDougal Street, Dave Van Ronk
  • Lost Horizon, James Hilton
  • Me and Orson Welles, Robert Kaplow
  • The Fortunate Pilgrim, Mario Puzo
  • Railway Viaduct, Edward Marston
  • Pretty Boy Floyd, Larry McMurtry
  • A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
  • Martin Dressler, Steven Millhauser
  • Armageddon, Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Simple Habana Melody, Oscar Hijuelo

A variety. Steve reports that the book that really stands out is The Plot Against America. He greatly enjoyed reading Lost Horizon; he’d never read Hilton before and found the story and idea of it very pleasurable. He always likes Vonnegut, calling him a great storyteller; this collection is stories from throughout his life. The book Danny gave him, by his professor in New Orleans, My Sunshine Away, Steve says would make a perfect movie. Pretty Boy Floyd is a fun, light read from McMurtry.

Concerts

  • Chris Smither, Town Crier, Beacon
  • Robert Klein, Paramount Theater, Peekskill
  • Ian Anderson, Count Basie, Red Bank

We are getting very very fussy about concert experiences. Consequently, we have, I think, sworn off the Count Basie from here on. We like, as I have written many times before, concerts where the people are respectful of the performers and possess strong bladders and low voices. The Hudson Valley venues both featured this kind of audience, making the concerts warm and inviting and friendly. Chris Smither is no longer in good voice, but his lyrics and music remain thought provoking and stirring. Robert Klein was an evening of good fun: it was very nice to laugh. Even aside from a set of downright rude audience members, who were more interested in talking to each other and hollering for their favorites, the Ian Anderson concert was very disappointing. His voice also is gone, and he seemed to be quite definitely pacing himself. While a good show, it lacked heart and soul. We missed a show at Peekskill, John Lodge of the Moody Blues, due to bad weather. There was a lot of that this year.

Dance, Theater, and Performance

  • The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater)
  • The Woolgatherers (Yael; Frigid Festival)
  • Louis and Ella (Manasquan)
  • Sunday in the Park with George (Broadway)
  • The Room Sings (Talking Band, La MaMa)
  • Not Knowing Where We’re Rowing (Sarah reading; Inwood Park)
  • Ring Twice for Miranda (Broadway)
  • Martin Denton, Martin Denton (Kraine Theater)
  • Friends Call Me Albert (Julie; Access Theater)
  • Hamlet (Public Theater)
  • A Christmas Carol (Julie; No. 11)

The price of Broadway tickets have kept us largely off Broadway, where, as always, there is much magic and delight to be found. And as usual, our favorites were the art created by our girls: now adding Julie’s fiancee, Yael, to our roster of favorite creatives. Locally, we saw a very light piece, a joint musical biography of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. I have to confess to walking out midway through Ring Twice for Miranda; Sarah had free tickets which gave me leave to—well, leave. We missed the controversial Julius Caesar in the Park due to deadlines; we also missed a Twyla Tharp show at the Joyce (and she herself danced at the performance we were to have attended); we did get to see Oscar Isaac and Keegan-Michael Key in Hamlet, which was exciting, but I can’t say that I loved it. I found many of the director’s choices bewildering and, frankly, distracting. The acting was wonderful, and we were glad to attend. I think my favorite, though, was Sunday in the Park with George. I love this play, to the extent that I cannot listen to the OCR as it makes me cry too much. While this staging was, in many ways, only a faint echo of the original, the principals were both very very good. Again, the director’s choices were disappointing, particularly with regard to the stripped-down and unimaginative set.

Movies

The following are movies we either saw in theaters or streamed shortly thereafter.

  • The Brand New Testament
  • 2017 Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts
  • Hidden Figures
  • Paterson
  • La La Land
  • Frantz
  • Landline
  • High-Rise
  • Demolition
  • Hell or High Water
  • Max Rose
  • The Ones Below
  • A Woman, A Part
  • Tale of Tales
  • Krisha
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Obit
  • Their Finest
  • The Clan
  • Deconstructing The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper
  • Deconstructing The Beatles’ Rubber Soul
  • Deconstructing The Beatles’ Revolver
  • Personal Shopper
  • Norman
  • Split
  • Colossal
  • Get Out
  • My Cousin Rachel
  • Beatriz at Dinner
  • Things to Come
  • The Big Sick
  • Brad’s Status
  • Marjorie Prime
  • Lady Bird
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • The Meyerwitz Stories
  • The People vs. Fritz Bauer
  • Loving Vincent
  • Endless Poetry
  • Lucky
  • The Florida Project
  • Three Billboards
  • The Square
  • The Shape of Water

A wonderful year for movies, and hard pressed to say which was the best, although high on our lists are Lucky, Paterson, Frantz, Loving Vincent, The Square, and Endless Poetry. These were extraordinary: moving, thought provoking, and innovative, each in their own special way. Frantz was devastating; I do not want to give any of it away. Paterson I still intend to write about. And the trippy frenetic Endless Poetry is in its own class.

Ranking in a second tier as highly satisfying and smart are The Brand New Testament (so mordantly funny), Hidden Figures and Bridge of Spies (much-needed quiet heroism), Get Out (a great horror film and a wonderful social experiment), The Big Sick (delightful in its sweet sincerity), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (surprisingly satisfying),The Shape of Water (another dark fairy tale from del Toro), My Cousin Rachel (probably the best suspense film we saw this year), and Marjorie Prime, Krisha, and The Florida Project  (intriguing perspectives from each).

Downright disappointing were La La Land and Three Billboards. I don’t get the hype around either. A musical should have, I don’t know, singers and dancers? As to Three Billboards, I am coming to the conclusion that I simply don’t get black comedy or Martin McDonagh; this had no soul, no heart, and we could not get past its improbable cruelties to see any humor. (But we love Frances McDormand.) All the Beatles movies were great fun: highly informative and scholarly—and nostalgic. As always, we are so grateful to our local arthouse theater, the Showroom. It continues to be a great joy and privilege to be able to walk to wonderful films. We are also grateful to the great art theaters in NYC: the Sunshine Cinema and the IFC, especially.

A hidden gem we chanced upon on TCM: The Young in Heart, an absolutely delightful 1938 movie with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Paulette Goddard, and Billie Burke—great fun and deliciously wicked.

On TV, and dwarfing almost everything else seen in the movies this year—or ever—was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. Every Sunday night all summer was a wild, weird, wonderful ride: the expectation, putting it off to the latest possible time slot to heighten the anticipation; the actuality, during which I spent more time standing next to the TV, drinking in the images, than literally perched on the edge of my seat; and the post-show reaction, feverishly reading Reddit and various Peak-y sites to prolong the experience. There will never be anything like Episode 8. Beautiful, damned, tragic, sorrowful, profound, laugh-out-loud funny, breathtakingly shocking, gorgeous, terrifying, glorious. A unique experience whose like I doubt will ever be undertaken or seen again.

We are consoling ourselves over the end of Twin Peaks with the second season of Stranger Things (charming and well done) and old episodes of The Wire (intense and brilliant; we just finished season 3 and are stretching it out now that Mad Men has finished for us—although we intend to revisit it and The Sopranos; these two, along with Upstairs, Downstairs, rank in my mind as the best TV dramas of all time).

Food

The hands-down restaurant find of the year was Christine’s in the Atlantic Highlands. Not only is the food delicious and plentiful, but the owner and atmosphere are warm and inviting. A lovely unpretentious place. Marandola’s in Bradley Beach was another serendipitous find, particularly for patio dining; another new favorite, albeit out of the way, the Blue Danube in Trenton.

Speaking of Trenton, we were disappointed that the farmers’ market there has gone so downhill: a shadow of the bustling market we first knew.

In cooking adventures, Steve has created a new blistered spicy string beans recipe. We made an herb orzo and rice side dish to replace mashed potatoes at this year’s Thanksgiving; quite tasty.

Field Trips and Museums

The big field trip was our five days, just ended, in New Orleans. I will write about this in a later post. Overall, it was a good experience, but I don’t think we are anywhere near as in sync with this city as other places we have been. But it was wonderful to see Danny, and it was a genuine pleasure to travel with Sarah.

We took two trips to the Hudson Valley and greatly enjoyed both. We did learn to try to avoid the humid seasons there, however. But the scenery is gorgeous, particularly going up the east side via Route 9. We want to go back, this time to see Hyde Park and maybe Woodstock. Tarrytown was fun, as was Beacon, filled with charming shops and art.

A couple of days in DC for work meant a full day for Steve with Danny, and a visit with a circle of loving and lovely friends at two favorite restaurants. But my God, the DC traffic and heat.

Our one museum trip this year was an excursion with Julie and Yael to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, which had a terrific Scorsese exhibit. The highlight of the exhibit, for me, was this nine-minute short:

After the museum, we hit Penn Station right after an accident and tasering incident had left all Jersey-bound trains halted on the tracks, leading us to two discoveries: (1) Uber and (2) the Seastreak ferry. We have since had many exhilarating ferry rides to and from Manhattan and are extremely happy with this new transit option.

Miscellany

I attended the Asbury Women’s March, which was affirming and positive and friendly and inclusive: a bright note in an almost cheerless civic landscape. We heard our representative speak later in the year, and it was good to hear a reasonable voice of pragmatic and unembittered compromise.

In July, we had a party, inviting about 20 or 30 neighbors. It was the first time we’ve had a casual party since leaving Virginia, and it was really nice. We intend to make it an annual tradition.

***

All in all, in a year when we put our heads down and immersed ourselves in work, clocking far too many 15- and 18-hour days in a deliberate effort to ignore the drumbeat of bad news and upsetting developments, it was soothing and gratifying to have such distinctive and meritorious diversions of sight, sound, and sensibility.

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